"Applying conventional disciplines of chemistry to current and future issues."



By applying and extending the rules of physical chemistry to biological systems, faculty members ask questions in a wide range of biologically relevant topics. These include the transport of lipids in an aqueous system (Narayanaswami, Weers), protein-lipopolysaccharides interactions in innate immunity (Weers), and design of small molecules that will mimic enzymes to bind ions (Marinez). Attention is also focused on ligand binding to heme iron (Lopez) and structure-function relationships of the iron-binding protein lactoferrin are studied to better understand its role in mammalian iron metabolism (McAbee). In addition, glycosylation of nuclear proteins is being explored as a mechanism for regulating gene transcription (Acey). Biochemistry and physical chemistry faculty study the dynamics of biomolecular systems via massive simulations using computers donated from around the world (Sorin) and probe the chemical and structural basis of how enzymes achieve their enormous rate enhancement and exquisite specificity (Schwans). Scanning probe microscopy and electrochemical methods are used to study the influence of single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and sequence-specific DNA-binding proteins on electrical properties of single DNA molecules and 2-D DNA assemblies (Slowinski).

Several of our faculty are involved in areas of drug design and delivery. In the area of drug development, faculty use kinetic and cell based assays (Acey, Nakayama) or molecular recognition principles for drug development (Schramm). Others, inspired by naturally occurring biological molecules, biopolymers and protein-lipid assemblies, are engaged in designing novel transport and drug delivery vehicles (Shon, Slowinska), including the investigation of biomimetic transition metal nitrosyl complexes that have the potential to act as an NO-donor drug and/or to be delivered to a biological target (Li). In a complementary in silico approach, Molecular Dynamics simulations and docking calculations are employed to examine the structure, stability, and dynamics of biological molecules (Nakayama, Sorin), which confers a powerful predictive power to the drug development program.


Environmental and health issues due to the use of the fossil fuels and water pollutants have become increasingly important. Researchers in our Department are engaged in studying the chemistry underlying remediation and advanced oxidative processes to clean up water (Mezyk), identifying alternative sources of energy (Derakhshan), and determining the effect of environmental contaminants on early embryonic neuronal development using stem cells (Acey).

Department faculty are engaged in designing, synthesizing, and characterizing materials with high thermoelectric conversion efficiency, production of hydrogen from water by harnessing solar energy and identifying materials displaying exotic magnetic properties (Derakhshan), developing inorganic-organic hybrid solid state materials for energy and environmental applications, and using ionic liquids and deep eutectic solvents in materials synthesis and design (Bu). In addition, research is being carried out on detection and imaging of single molecules based on their electrical properties (Slowinski), studies on molecular wires and metal organic frameworks with specific coordination modes, which exhibit electronic communication and/or photoluminescent properties (Li), and gas phase spectroscopy (Brazier).

Researchers in the Department are focusing on Nanosciences for potential applications in drug delivery using novel multifunctional nanoparticle systems that combine the advantages of nanoparticles and dendrimers (Shon) and biomolecule-based nanovehicles that serve as Trojan horses for targeted drug delivery (Narayanaswami). Nanocomposite materials based on biopolymers are under investigation for controlled drug delivery (Slowinska), and new strategies for the long term operation of implantable sensors are being developed (Slowinska). New nanostructured films such as nanoisland films and C60-nanoparticle hybrid films are developed for plasmonic sensing and photodectors, respectively (Shon). The effect of molecular structure and the electrode/molecule contact on electrical properties of single molecules is also investigated (Slowinski). The Langmuir and Langmuir-Blodget methods, as well as scanning electrochemical microscopy, are utilized to study the properties of monolayers (Slowinski).

The Department has a strong nucleus of faculty members working in these areas, including mechanism-based development of new methods and reagents for the synthesis of fine pharmacological organic molecules (Buonora). There is a focus on the synthesis of hemes and Ligand-heme systems (Lopez) and organophosphorus-based enzyme inhibitors (Nakayama) as potential drug candidates. Others use molecular recognition as a design principle to develop new synthetic molecules that are compatible with and capable of regulating biological function (Schramm). Efforts are also focused on researching monolayer-protected nanoparticles including Au, Pd, Pt, and bimetallic nanoparticles suitable for catalytic conversion of organic functional groups (Shon) and preparing organometallic and transition metal compounds with catalytic properties using specially designed organic ligands (Li). Current efforts are also focused on development of approaches to synthesize unnatural amino acids and nucleotides derivatized for incorporation in peptides and oligonucleotides via solid phase synthesis (Schwans).

Research conducted by faculty members in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry is funded by ACS PRF, AHA, NIH, NSF, Research Corp, TRDRP, and other scientific funding agencies. The faculty members actively engage graduate and undergraduate students in their research programs and urge students interested in participating in research to contact faculty members with whom they may be interested in conducting research.


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